The Kokoro Files is a series that tells the everyday stories of people who love Japan, and I’m excited to present a conversation with the Japan editor of Otaku USA, Matt Schley, a writer who made his bones in the world of anime. In this interview, Matt shares his thoughts on why anime has become so popular to a modern day audience and reveals his tips on how to break into the industry of Japan-related journalism.
It’s great to have you featured in Yamato Magazine Matt. Getting another writer’s thoughts on Japan is always interesting and I’d like to start off things off by asking where your interest in Japan first came from.
Thank you for asking me to participate!
I think my first run-in with Japan came in the form of a Godzilla marathon on cable, which my dad was kind enough to record on our Betamax player. After that came video games, anime, music, novels, and the slow realisation almost all the pop culture I was digging came from this place called “Japan.”
I finally made it over here for about a week shortly after graduating college. That little taste inspired me to move to Tokyo for what I thought would be a fun year abroad, and before I knew it, that year turned into two, then three, and now almost 10. Oops.
Some of the publications you’ve written for include the Japan Times, Time Out Tokyo and Otaku USA. How did you begin your writing career?
In my early 20s I was blogging for a site called Colony Drop (RIP), which developed a reputation for being kind of controversial and clickbaity, but also had serious analysis that went beyond typical anime blogs. Or so I’d like to think.
Anyway, Otaku USA invited us to write some pieces, so that’s how I made by print debut. I became their Japan editor in 2012 when they were looking for someone to cover things “on the ground” here in Tokyo.
As for Japan-based publications, it’s just been a matter of going out and meeting people (call it “networking” if you must, though I think it’s been more organic than that) and building a reputation as someone who gets his work in on time and is (hopefully) reasonably pleasant to work with!
What are some of your favourite things about Japan?
Coming over here to begin with was inspired by the aforementioned anime, music, etc. I still love that stuff, but what’s kept me fascinated all these years are things like history, culture, photography, the never-ending battle with the language, cheap yakitori joints and, y’know, friends. Oh, and baseball.
Why do you think people find anime so appealing to watch and do you think it will ever stop being popular?
Yeah, that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it. Aside from the “it’s cartoons, but for adults!” cliché, I still haven’t figured it out after all these years. I mean, from another perspective, there is plenty of anime I don’t find appealing at all — but there’s so much out there that there’s something for everyone. Oh no, another cliché.
Will it ever stop being popular? If certain industry trends continue (blatant self-promotion!) I think it’s more likely that it will stop being made, at least in the form we know it.
Where in Japan would you recommend visiting and are there any locations that have a special meaning to you?
I’m a big city guy, so for me it’s hard to do better than Tokyo. I’ve been here almost a decade and I still discover amazing new pockets of the city all the time. Osaka is great too — it’s both grittier and friendlier than Tokyo at the same time.
The very first place I studied Japanese was in Okazaki, a little city outside Nagoya, so that’s definitely a natsukashii spot for me.
Are there any writers who inspired you growing up and have influenced your work?
As far as criticism, I think the gold star is still Roger Ebert. He refused to look down at genre films and approached each and every movie as worthy of a fair look. At the same time, he showed no fear in calling out bad films for what they were.
Plus, y’know, this. Says it all, man.
In terms of the kind of stuff I specialise in now, Patrick Macias was a big inspiration early on, especially his book TokyoScope. Tom Mes, Jasper Sharp and all the folks at Midnight Eye (RIP). Roland Kelts is inspiring for his ability to jump between anime, Haruki Murakami and serious cultural issues on a dime. Both Richard Lloyd Parry’s Japan books are phenomenal. Susan Napier’s recent book on Miyazaki: also phenomenal. Plenty others I’m forgetting about, I’m sure.
What would your best advice be for someone who wants to write about anime and what magazines would you recommend pitching to?
My advice for someone who wants to write about anime is the same advice I have for someone who wants to write about anything:
Do it for free at first so you have something to show people who might want to pay you. Leave your house so you can meet people who might want to pay you. Turn in your work on time. Be receptive to editors’ changes, but know when to hold your ground. Turn in your work on time. Say “yes” even if you’re not sure you can pull it off. You’re a pop culture writer, not a doctor: no one’s going to die if you screw up. Turn in your work on time.
If you have a good anime-related idea (and writing samples), I would recommending pitching to me!
Matt Schley (rhymes with guy) has been living in and writing about Japan for the better part of a decade. He likes beer and baseball and can be tweeted at here: @rhymeswithguy.